John R. Buchtel
President, Aultman, Miller & Company
President, Buckeye Reaper & Mower Company
General Manager, Akron Iron Company
Founder, Buchtel College
(The University of Akron)
John R. Buchtel was born on a farm in Green Township in 1820. Green Township was part of Stark County at that time. To see a summarized biography of John R. Buchtel, click here
John R. Buchtel was a long-time business partner of Lewis Miller & Cornelius Aultman. After a short stint as a farmer, he accepted a position as a salesman with Ball, Aultman & Company. He later served as President of Aultman, Miller & Company and Buckeye Reaper & Mower. He was instrumental in founding and operating the Akron Iron Company, a very successful venture that processed the mineral resources of the Hocking Valley. John R. Buchtel was a community-minded man and donated most of the fortune he amassed to found Buchtel College.
Biography of John Richards Buchtel from Fifty Years of Buchtel College
(1870-1920) A. I. Spanton, Akron, Ohio, 1922, pages 25-35
Click here to read Fifty Years of Buchtel College
John Richards Buchtel was a native of Summit County, Ohio, being born January 18, 1820, in Green Township, then a part of the county of Stark. He was of German descent, his paternal ancestors having come from Germany at an early date. He was the oldest of five children. His father, John Buchtel, a farmer, was a man of remarkable physical strength. In his old age he greatly enjoyed telling of his early prowess,
especially of how he could stand in a half-bushel measure and shoulder four bushels of wheat. The mother, Catherine Richards Buchtel, was a woman of unusual strength of character. Undoubtedly from her John R. Buchtel inherited some of his finest traits. It is told that a prominent Akron clergy- man said to Mr. Buchtel soon after his mother's death, "I have often wondered how you came by your spirit of liberality, but when I looked on the face of your mother as she lay in her coffin the question was answered,"
Mr. Buchtel's boyhood, like that of other country boys of his day, was spent in hard labor on the farm. In his later teens he attempted new ventures, such as selling clocks and buying up horses, but they proved unprofitable, and he decided he had better stick to farming. On coming of age he settled down on one hundred acres which his father gave him on condition that he pay off the encumbrance of seven hundred dollars
. Marrying in 1844, he continued farming, and eventually moved to the Thornton farm of 21 acres, now one of the most populous portions of Akron. It is said that one year he had in a single wheat-field all the land west of Bowery Street and south of Exchange, In a few years he sold this farm at a good profit and bought another in La Porte County, Indiana.
Mr. Buchtel's intention was to move to the La Porte farm, and no doubt he would have done so had it not been for an offer from Ball, Aultman and Company of Canton to accept a position as salesman. This firm was then manufacturing the Ohio mower and reaper, but later began to make the Buckeye, for many years one of the most famous makes. The acceptance of this position changed the entire course of Mr. Buchtel's
business career. He remained with the company nearly two years — until 1856 — and when, soon after he had left their employ, their works burned down, it was chiefly by his wise and courageous efforts that the company was successfully reorganized. In 1 864 he persuaded the firm to build a branch factory in Akron, and he himself superintended the construction. Mr. Buchtel was the first president of this Buckeye
Company, as the newly-organized branch of the company was popularly known, and was actively associated with the firm for eighteen years.
The bringing of the Buckeye Works to Akron was an immense impetus to the material growth and prosperity of the city, several other leading industries, such as the Akron Iron Works and the Knife Works, being the result. In securing and keeping these industrial ventures Mr. Buchtel was ever one of the leading spirits. From the time of the organizing of the Buckeye Company until he was stricken with paralysis in 1887, there was hardly any important Akron enterprise of an industrial nature with which he was not more or less closely associated.
But John R. Buchtel's business interests and activities were not confined to Akron. In 1877, in company with several other capitalists, he undertook what proved to be one of the most extensive and profitable ventures of his career, the development of the mineral resources of the Hocking Valley. The purchase comprised some of the most valuable coal and iron lands in the United States. How extensive was the project
may be guessed from the statement that in the year 1880 alone the company paid to the Hocking Valley Railroad one million dollars for freight charges? For several years Mr. Buchtel had active management of the work in the Hocking Valley, and the remarkable success of the business was largely due to his wise and energetic conduct of the company's affairs. It was only fitting that the prosperous town which sprang up in the Valley should be named Buchtel in his honor.
Remarkable, however, as was his energy, Mr. Buchtel was no longer a young man. The strain was beginning to tell. In 1882 he retired from the Buckeye Company and some other firms in which he had been actively interested; but he continued hard at work in his remaining enterprises until 1887, when a stroke of paralysis, while he was in the Hocking Valley, compelled him to give up all active participation in business affairs. Five years later, on Monday, May 23, 1892, this great and good man passed from earth.
A mere enumeration of his more important business activities can give only a faint idea of the man, John R. Buchtel. He was not a mere money-maker; neither — what is far better — a mere money-giver. He gave more than his money — he gave himself; not only to business affairs, but to whatever he thought was for the good of his city and for the benefit of mankind. In an address at his funeral, J. Park Alexander,
a prominent Akron citizen who had known him intimately for years, said:
"To John R. Buchtel is due full credit for what Akron is today. He neither lagged nor shirked from his full share of any enterprise to build up Akron. — When Akron was a village, every step of improvement, each line of progress, every school, every church, all charities, had the assistance of this big-hearted man.
— In every great contest that had for its object the betterment of the city or the inhabitants thereof, either morally, physically, intellectually, or religiously, John R. Buchtel was always on the right side — his banner never lowered when once a good cause was undertaken, until a complete victory was won."
During the Civil War, Mr. Buchtel rendered valuable service; he secured enlistments, raised bounty money, and, when others insisted that the quota demanded by the draft could not possibly be met, by his ceaseless energy and perseverance he turned failure into success.
Never an office-seeker, Mr. Buchtel's abilities were such that again and again the office sought the man. While living in Coventry Township, before he moved to Akron, he was assessor and justice of the peace, and filled other offices. After coming to Akron, at the urgent request of his friends he accepted the office of township trustee for several times that he might secure and perfect certain important local improvements.
In 1872 he was a presidential elector. Although a Republican in politics, he became a Prohibitionist as soon as temperance was made a political issue, and in 1874 was a candidate for Secretary of State on the Prohibition ticket. Governor Hayes appointed him one of the trustees of the State Agricultural College, which position he filled most acceptably, for some time being a member of the Executive Committee.
Mr. Buchtel was a man of great energy. In the address from which we have already quoted, J. Park Alexander said: "Thirty to thirty-five years ago this dead friend was the life and motive power at which the dwellers of Akron, then a village of three thousand people, were amazed. He could have been seen at the head of a procession of laborers in the twilight of morn and evening winding their way to or from the harvest field and logging camp. He never said 'Go!' It was always the hearty, 'Come on, boys!'
When the Buckeye plant was built, he helped get out the timbers for the large shops, working in the woods every day. One who knew him then says that nothing could keep him from his work, but in storm and cold, no less than in pleasant weather, this rugged man could be seen, in high-topped boots, working clothes, and a slouch hat, doing the hardest sort of labor, not only with an abounding energy, but ever with a
smile and words of cheer.
John R. Buchtel had an invincible will. To begin a task meant, with him, to finish it, no matter what obstacles were in the way. He knew no such word as fail. This determined persistence crops out early, as the following story will show: One day, while sitting quietly under a maple-tree fishing with a pm-hook, he heard his mother calling, "Oh, John, come here!" "Yes, I'm coming," he answered. But he kept on fishing.
The call was repeated several times, and still, the little chap, who had had poor luck all afternoon, did not move. Soon he was surprised by the sudden appearance of his mother, who gave him a good, old-fashioned switching. As became a good boy, Johnny submitted meekly; but promptly resumed his fishing
as soon as his mother had done. We hope he caught some fish; he caught what he deserved for his disobedience; surely his persistence deserved some recompense, too.
Another story of his boyhood illustrates the same trait. The summer he was ten years old his father had a large number of harvest hands working for him, who would gather during their "nooning" in front of the house and perform various gymnastic feats. Of course, ittle Johnny was an eager spectator, and longed to be able to do such "stunts" himself. The trick that pleased him most of all was walking on one's hands, and he tried repeatedly to do it, but without success Soon afterward, his mother, who had watched his efforts,
missed him. She called, but there was no response. We may imagine her surprise when, on going in search of the little chap, she saw him in the garden, his feet sticking up in the air and his head buried in a large hole he had dug. It was characteristic of the boy, and, later, of the man. Having resolved to do something, he was determined to do it; if not in one way, then in another.
An incident of the trip abroad which Mr. and Mrs. Buchtel took in 1873 illustrates the same characteristic. While they were in Vienna there was a world reaper contest to decide which make of reaper was the best. It was a big event. Mr. Buchtel, keenly interested, and determined that the world medal should be won by an Akron machine, if possible, went early to the field where the contest was to be held, in order that he might watch the practice-driving of the man in charge of the "Buckeye." Much dissatisfied, he made up his mind
what he would do, and when the start came he mounted the machine himself and drove the "Buckeye" to victory.
The following story of Mr. Buchtel's determined will was told by Professor Carl F. Kolbe in an address on Founder's Day. 1902:
"When, after the first term of college from September, 1872, to Christmas, I found it impossible to carry on my college duties in connection with my newspaper work, I felt compelled to resign. No provision having been made for a successor for the coming term, and the students insisting upon my return, I found
Mr. Buchtel, one bitter cold morning, early before six o'clock, knocking at my door. Said he, 'Professor, I want you to come right back to college, and make college work your hfe's work.' I answered that this was rather unexpected, and that my business could not be neglected, as it would be if I returned. 'You
sell your business,' said he; 'until then you can make temporary arrangements.* When I replied that this ought to be well considered and talked over, and for that purpose invited him in out of the intense cold, he said: 'No, sir; there is nothing to consider; you make up your mind right here and now to return and remain with us in college.' He did not cross the threshold of my house, but he knew that he had gained his point. What could I do? I had to promise on the spot to accede to his wishes, and at nine o'clock the same morning I was back in the classroom. "
There was no formality about Mr. Buchtel. He was simple, natural, sincere; in manner unconventional, at times almost blunt. In the address from which we have just quoted. Professor Carl F. Kolbe tells of being present at a fine faculty dinner given by Mr. and Mrs. Buchtel. At first a certain reserve was noticeable, but when the host blurted out in his offhand way that he wanted his guests to eat an abundance of turnips because they were "plenty and very cheap," all stiffness vanished. Professor Kolbe also relates the following
incident as illustrative of Mr. Buchtel's quaintly informal way of doing things:
"I was now to be presented, in my new capacity, to the gentlemen assembled at Mr. Buchtel's residence, among these our first president, just then elected. Dr. McCollester. I well remember that hot sultry July afternoon when I was invited to call. I found the distinguished company in the front yard, seated in
the shade of the trees — a rather formidable array of wisdom and dignity, well suited to cause the novice some trepidation if he were so inclined. But Mr. Buchtel, in his inimitable, matter-of-fact way, regardless of any ceremony whatever, introduced me pleasantly wdth these words, 'Now, gentlemen, this is the man
who is going to teach our girls and boys Dutch; and I think he is the right man.' This broke the ice, I began to feel better, and was quite ready to answer all their questions."
Illustrating this same unconventional turn of mind is the story of how on one occasion, when Mr. Buchtel was a guest at a Christmas dinner, he was suddenly missed from the company, but in a short time returned and said to the hostess, "Well, I have just been out in the kitchen looking at your turkey. I was afraid it wasn't big enough. You see, you Yankees are so stingy."
Mr. Buchtel had a keen sense of humor. He enjoyed a good joke, even at his own expense. An Akron lady who had been the butt of several of his jokes determined to pay him back. One evening at a church social she asked him if he would be willing to help in the entertainment by taking the part of a Roman senator in a tableau. He seemed much pleased at the compliment, and evidently enjoyed having a cloak arranged about his shoulders as a toga, and ladies, young and old, placed around him to represent the daughters
of "the Roman senator." When the curtain was drawn he stood there as proud and erect as any Roman of ancient days. Then the lady announced, "Friends, this is Brigham Young and his wives." At once he saw that this time the joke was on him, and joined most heartily in the laughter.
Mr. Buchtel's quick wit is illustrated by his answer to an orthodox minister who told him he could not understand how he could be a Universalist. "Why don't you come with us?" asked the clergyman. "We have the largest numbers." Quick as a flash came the reply, "In my youth I was taught to follow the narrow way, in which but few walk. I shall not now forsake the teachings of my youth."
Despite his iron will and blunt manner, Mr. Buchtel was a man of rare sympathy and unusual kindness of heart. He was a diamond in the rough. In his long career as an employer, his relations with his workmen were of the most pleasant nature, due largely to his thoughtful treatment of them. One of his first considerations was the comfort and the prosperity of those in his employ. In the town of Buchtel that sprang up in the Hocking Valley he erected many houses, which he sold to his workmen at low prices and on the easiest terms. He also built a fine opera house for their entertainment. He was naturally kind and generous, and could not help despising anybody who was "stingy." His father said that, as a boy,
John was unusually ready to give his money away, no matter how little he might have. In later years, when fortune prospered him, he made it his business to study how he could so use his wealth as to do the largest good. Great as was his capacity for accumulating money, even greater was his generous and intelligent use of it.
In religious belief Mr. Buchtel was a staunch Universalist without being narrowly sectarian. Tolerant of other faiths, he gave liberally for all sorts of religious or charitable purposes, no matter what denomination might have the matter in charge. There was not a church m Akron that was not indebted to him for some form of financial assistance. His father and mother had been members of the Evangelical Church (Albrechts). When a young man, he himself was an active Methodist, but, becoming dissatisfied with the doctrines of that church, for a long time he had extreme antiorthodox views, and did not attend any church. He joined
the Universalist Church in 1870. At that time he expressed himself as having been in sympathy with the religious views of Universalists for nearly twenty years, and said he undoubtedly would have become a member had there been a church in Akron. Thereafter his interest in the College and in the church that had given it birth grew simultaneously, each helping the other. No one who knew Mr. Buchtel during the
last five years of his life can forget his remarkable devotion to the two institutions; although confined to an invalid's chair, he insisted on attending every public exercise in the College, and every service in the church of his choice.
We have spoken of Mr. Buchtel's passion for benevolence. Another dominant trait was his liking for young people; and out of these two ruling emotions of the man there was born what many persons during his later life said was his master passion — his passion for education. Without children of his own, his love for the sons and daughters of other men and his keen interest in their advancement were all the more intense.
As a boy his own educational advantages had been exceedingly meager; so meager, indeed, that when he became of age he could hardly write his name. He never ceased to regret this lack. But it was this very deficiency, coupled with his love for young people, that strengthened his desire for the youth of his own and later generations to enjoy the privileges he had been denied; and it was just because Buchtel College
made a splendid challenge to this great desire of his heart that he made it the supreme object of his benevolence. It gave him the crowning opportunity to do for his city and for his church the one thing above all others he longed to do. And, from the first, he stood for co-education. He took the broad and sane view that, if education means the training and the enriching of the human mind and spirit, then there is every reason why the colleges should be open to women as freely as to men.
To Buchtel College Mr. Buchtel gave almost his entire fortune. If judged not merely by the amount of his gifts, but by their proportion to all his possessions, he must rank as one of the greatest of benefactors. In 1870 he gave $31,000; during the next twelve years he gave various sums totalling $138,828, and eventually his total gifts to Buchtel College amounted to almost half a million dollars.
But John R. Buchtel gave to the College more than his fortune: he gave himself — his time, his anxious thought, his "last full measure of devotion." When, on the evening of the day of the laying of the cornerstone, he publicly said he was so keenly interested in the new project that, if necessary, he was willing to sacrifice his life for its success, he meant every word, as his unstinted generosity and unfailing loyalty from that day forth abundantly proved. In cold print, the words may seem today like the shallow boast
of a vain man ; but the people who heard him that night knew them to be a frank and earnest utterance straight from the heart. Mr. Buchtel was one of the corporators of Buchtel College. He was president of its first Board of Trustees, and remained continuously in that office until his death twenty years later. As chairman of the building committee from 1870 to 1872, he worked with tireless industry. To the very
last his greatest desire was for the prosperity of the College, and he labored unceasingly for its success.
It is gratifying that Mr, Buchtel lived to see his hopes realized. In spite of days of adversity, the College prospered abundantly, and Mr. Buchtel watched it become one of the best colleges in the state. His interest in it, his devotion to it, and his joy in its accomplishments were probably never greater than during the last five years of his life. Stricken with paralysis, he was compelled to retire from active business, but the seeming calamity became a blessing in disguise. Free from all business cares, even though an invalid, he could now enter into the college life with an intimacy and heartiness impossible before. In his wheel-chair he was a familiar figure to faculty and students. It was a common occurrence for him to visit chapel, and he was always present at public exercises, of whatever nature, entering into them with the keenest enjoyment. He was receiving his reward. In the affectionate gratitude of the boys and girls, in the love of many friends, in the high esteem of the entire community, and in his own clear consciousness of having done a great thing for the public good, he was finding such satisfaction and joy and abiding peace as made these closing years the richest of his life.
We speak of this great and good man as dead. But in the deeper sense he is not dead, nor can he ever die. In the lives of hundreds of men and women who have been made wiser, happier, and better by the education made possible for them by his munificence, "his soul goes marching on." His living monument is the institution into which he breathed the breath of life. John R. Buchtel is immortal in the Buchtel
College that was, the Akron University that is, and the still greater institution that is to be.
JOHN BUCHTEL was one of the early residents of Summit County, accompanying his parents to the neighborhood of (Coventry as early as 1830. He was born in Myers Township, Center County, Pennsylvania, November 6, 1797, and was a son of Peter Buchtel. His parents located first in Stark County, Ohio, later in Green Township, and still later in Coventry Township, Summit County, this being about 1818. The country was then a wild region, with only here and there a cabin erected by some courageous settler near the banks of a stream. Peter Buchtel was a pioneer of the old tvpe and died at Tremont, Ohio.
John Buchtel's early years were filled with the hard labor incident to clearing up a pioneer farm. He was married in Green township, January 18, 1821, to Catherine Richards, and they had five children, three daughters and two sons. The family was partly reared in the log cabin in which John Buchtel and wife commenced housekeeping. After thirteen years of residence in Green township, Mr. Buchtel sold his farm there and bought another, in Coventry Township, on which he resided for forty-one years. In 1875, Mr. Buchtel gave up all active pursuits and with his wife removed to a small farm just north of Akron, where Mrs. Buchtel died in 1882, aged seventy-eight years. Mr. Buchtel then retired to the home of his son, Hon. William Buchtel, where he died at the remarkable age of ninety-seven yeare and two months. For more than a half century he was a consistent member of the Evangelical Church. From the period of the Civil War, he had been an earnest supporter of the Republican party.